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'One Book' Program Celebrates Charles Darwin

Community-reading program selected Darwin biography to coincide with his 200th birthday.

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March 2, 2009 | by Matt Paolelli

As their friends went off to college, incoming Northwestern students enjoyed an extra few weeks of summer vacation. The One Book One Northwestern program aimed to make those weeks a bit more productive and spark a conversation among new students at the same time.o

Each year, the community-reading program selects a book and sends a copy to all incoming undergraduate students. To coincide with Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "On the Origin of Species," One Book organizers selected David Quammen's 2006 Darwin biography, "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution."

Students were encouraged to read the book and participate in an online discussion board over the summer. This gave new students the chance to connect with the Northwestern community even before setting foot on campus, said Teresa Horton, associate professor of neurobiology and physiology and chairwoman of the One Book program.

In conjunction with various Northwestern schools, departments and organizations, the One Book program organized a five-month-long Darwin celebration featuring a variety of special events and speakers to continue the dialogue about Darwin's life and legacy.

Quammen visited the Evanston campus on Feb. 5 to meet with students and deliver the program's keynote address on Darwin's life as a "reluctant revolutionary." He discussed the scientist's two most dominant traits -- his tendency toward caution and his intellectual honesty -- and argued that these characteristics contributed to the strange 21-year gap between Darwin's development of the evolutionary theory and the actual publication of "On the Origin of Species."

This year's One Book program concluded with a Darwin Day celebration on Feb. 12, Darwin's 200th birthday. The daylong commemoration included performances of "The Music of Evolution" by Northwestern School of Music students, a birthday cake, "The Art of Evolution" display of artwork by students, faculty and staff, and the public launch of "Bughunt" -- an online multi-player computer game that simulates natural selection.

"The basis of the program is to provide a common talking point to everyone on campus," Horton said. "This is the third time we've done this at Northwestern, and I think the One Book program will only get better over time."

Topics: Campus Life